Exactly how you set up an acupuncture clinic after the course depends a good deal on your individual circumstances. GPs, hospital consultants, physiotherapists in hospital or private practice – all will have to find their own particular approach. Some general advice does however apply to practically all groups.
There is no need to start needling patients immediately! It’s quite a good idea to teach yourself to examine patients for TPs and anatomical landmarks, even before you do any actual acupuncture. You can do this in the course of your normal examination of patients, without mentioning acupuncture at all.
Skillful needling is important for success in acupuncture and it is impossible to acquire this in the course of a single weekend. Two good ways of learning to use the needles are to practise on cardboard and to needle yourself. If you find needling difficult you can resort to using a guide tube, but I am not enthusiastic about this. A guide tube is not always available and some lengths of needles are not usually supplied with one. If you become accustomed to use a guide tube you will feel lost if you find yourself without one. Also, guide tubes are actually more difficult to use once you are used to managing without one. Acupuncture is essentially a very “hands-on” procedure and the process of inserting the needles is an important part of the treatment. However, it is better to use a guide tube than to give up altogether.
When you do start using acupuncture it may be best to begin with new patients. If you start with “old” patients you will have to explain that you have only recently learnt to do acupuncture and this will not increase confidence in either the patient or you. In the case of new patients you can offer acupuncture as a possible treatment alternative without the need for elaborate explanations.
Start by treating “easy” problems. Don’t make the mistake of trying to treat patients who have failed with everything else; this will only lead to disappointment. However, “easy” does not necessarily mean musculoskeletal. In fact, treating musculoskeletal problems can sometimes be more difficult technically since it may demand accurate localization of TPs. Choose problems that are known to respond well and don’t demand complicated treatment.
Medico-legal considerations: Make sure that the patient you intend to treat has understood what you intend to do and agrees to it. (Written consent is not however essential, at least at present.) If a patient asks you a specific question about safety, write down both what you were asked and what you answered (this is important). It is desirable to give new patients written information about acupuncture which they can refer to later (see Appendix A).
You should probably start by setting aside a particular time for acupuncture. Bring just a few patients for treatment and give yourself plenty of time. Later, when you become more used to it, you will be able to treat more patients in a session and will be able to interweave acupuncture with other kinds of treatment, but it is better to avoid doing this at the outset.